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Grimshaw unveils £22m 'ellipse' for the RCA

The AJ can this week reveal Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners' £22 million designs for a new 'ellipse' building for the Royal College of Art, to be built on the historically sensitive site next to the Royal Albert Hall.

About this time last year the practice won an international competition run by the college to settle on an architect rather than a design. It is now working up the scheme in close consultation with Westminster City Council and English Heritage and hopes to submit a planning application this October.

The RCA wanted 3,000m 2of additional teaching and learning space to bring closer together the converging disciplines of design, fine and applied art.

Grimshaw's five-floor proposal, for what the architects described would be 'an icon building of the highest quality', will provide studios for painting, drawing and new technology, expansion for two existing departments and one floor dedicated to research. It will also add an exhibition gallery at basement level to provide a new central London venue for a major contemporary art and design exhibition programme.

NGP associate and project architect Kirsten Lees said the proposed building's appearance had been influenced strongly by its neighbours.

'The key criterion was to design a building which had its own identity but was subservient and does not detract, ' she said. The building's curved form is a contemporary nod to the Royal Albert Hall, but the design also means that the about-to-be-listed HT Cadbury-Brown, Robert Goodden and Sir Hugh Casson Darwin Building to the east and the already Grade I listed Royal College of Organists building to the south are not obscured.

The architects have given the building the working title 'the ellipse', and it promises to aid orientation, not least by providing a street-level entrance for the first time at the junction with the Darwin building. The concrete structure will be free of internal columns for flexibility and freedom of movement, while the architects aim to optimise daylight - particularly northlight - and assisted natural ventilation in the evolving external envelope design.

The scheme will aim to replace the RCA's Gulbenkian Hall by Colquhoun, Miller and Partners, which is only 12 years old. It also includes a circulation tower to act as the 'mixing valve' and fulcrum for interaction between the Darwin building and the new 'ellipse'. Work on site is scheduled to begin next summer and be completed two years later.

Buro Happold is structural engineer, Atelier Ten the services engineer and Davis Langdon and Everest quantity surveyor.

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